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Know What to Do if a Federal Agent Targets You or a Loved One

January 18, 2023 Perspective


Caroline Marks

Caroline Marks

Staff Attorney, National Security & Civil Rights

Caroline Marks

Staff Attorney, National Security & Civil Rights

Caroline Marks is a Staff Attorney in the National Security and Civil Rights program at Asian Law Caucus. Caroline’s work focuses on, among other things, state legislative and administrative advocacy challenging surveillance and counterterrorism programs and narratives that harm Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian communities and other communities of color.

Before coming to ALC, Caroline worked on litigation and advocacy with the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU Law, to hold the United States responsible for its extraordinary rendition program—whereby the U.S. kidnapped and transferred individuals to black sites and proxy governments for their subsequent torture and secret detention. Specifically, Caroline participated significantly in litigation before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in the case Mohamed et al. v. United States.

Caroline graduated from NYU School of Law and holds a BA in International Relations from Brown University. During her time at Brown, Caroline spent a semester Amman, Jordan learning the Levantine dialect and expanding her knowledge of modern standard Arabic.

Zoha Raza

Zoha Raza

Communications Associate

Zoha Raza

Communications Associate

Zoha Raza serves as the communications associate at Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus. Prior to this position, she led and managed communications work statewide for CAIR, coordinated youth leadership programs, and aided different social justice efforts around the Bay Area and beyond.

She has been published by a number of different news outlets including San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Spotlight. She also volunteered as a NextGen Councilmember for ABC7, where she shared insight from local communities to contribute to story development.

Zoha graduated from the University of California, Davis with a degree in Communications. Outside of work, Zoha enjoys writing, playing basketball, and trying new food spots.

The end of this article contains a step-by-step process of what to do if you are approached by federal agents.

As part of our work helping community members protect their civil rights, our National Security and Civil Rights program represents Bay Area residents who are unjustly targeted by the federal law enforcement, including the FBI, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and State Department, often on the basis of their race, immigration status, or religion.

Targeting by federal agents takes different forms. For some community members, federal agents may show up at their homes. For others, agents from the FBI or other agencies may regularly visit their work, school, or place of worship, or cold-call them, seeking what is called a “voluntary interview.” While those targeted are not compelled to take up such requests, they can often feel that they have to comply simply because the request is coming from a federal agent.

In many cases, FBI agents coerce people to become the agency’s informants by implying that they could create issues in their immigration or visa status, place them on watch lists, and even separate people from their families if the potential FBI recruit does not comply.

Recently, as we’ve held know-your-rights events at local mosques and community spaces across the Bay Area, we’ve heard that an increasing number of people have been approached by federal agents in the last year, typically without any justification.

Amid this rise in unwarranted federal surveillance and targeting, the team has been providing free legal representation to many individuals and families. In just the past year, for example, they've supported Afghan families who were approached by federal agents near their homes seeking information to use as leverage, as well as small business owners, university students, and Bay Area residents who are also U.S. citizens. The team is currently representing an Afghan American and U.S. citizen who has been repeatedly approached by FBI agents and has been asked about his wife, who is an Afghan national, on a number of occasions.

Chinese and other Asian students, professors, and researchers have also been frequently approached under suspicion of having ties with the Chinese government and/or engaging in technological espionage. These accusations are typically baseless and often motivated by racially biased assumptions.

In one case, a PhD student at Stanford studying physics was visited at their home by two DHS Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents. When first approached, the student was asked about their research, any “military applications” to the projects they were working on, and the extent of their contact with scientific institutions and researchers in China. The student consulted ALC attorneys, who communicated directly with the HSI agents and effectively ended their inquiry into the student’s life. Since then, the student has not been contacted by agents.

If you are approached by federal agents (which can include agents from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, or State Department), there are important steps you can take to protect your rights:

1. Do not talk to them without consulting an attorney and contact ALC for help. You are not obligated to answer questions from an FBI agent. Your refusal to talk to the agent may not be used against you
. Say, ‘I want to speak to a lawyer and to remain silent.’

Contact us at 415-896-1701 or fill out the Contact Us form to report the incident and request free legal advice about your next steps.

If you find yourself speaking to the FBI without a lawyer, it’s okay to stop the conversation and say, ‘May I have your card? I will have my lawyer follow up with you.’

2. Ask for the agents’ information.
Try to get the names, agencies, badge numbers, and business cards of all of the agents and officers who contacted you.

3. Do not let them inside your home unless they have a warrant.
Say, ‘I do not give you consent to enter my house.’ However, if they insist on entering, do not resist and state, 'I do not consent to this search.'

4. Do not let them search your electronic devices unless they have a warrant
. Once again say, ‘I do not give you consent to search my devices.’ If they insist on searching, do not resist and state 'I do not consent to this search.'

Find flyers on your rights if federal agents or police visit you in English, Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Farsi, and Punjabi.

We have resources from different organizations to help people understand their rights regarding law enforcement surveillance, immigration, travel, electronic privacy, and discrimination. Visit our community education resource page.

ALC's Hammad Alam and Chinese for Affirmative Action's Annie Lee provided a know your rights training for faculty & students at UC Berkeley's Institute for the Study of Societal Issues (ISSI). Watch the video below.